We cross the border by foot ignoring all the money changers, taxi drivers and tour sellers. First things first: a Bia Saigon and spring rolls. We are in Vietnam!
What a journey we had. Four days of non-stop traveling to leave China just in time before our visa would expire. From Lhasa, it’s “just” 2.500km by road, but as a tourist you have to take a gigantic detour to get out of Tibet of twice the distance. Well, at least we passed Chengdu and had the opportunity to see one of the cutes animals on earth: the Giant Panda. Really hope they keep up the work for Panda conservation. Born to be wild!
From now onwards we are free to go left, right, straight ahead or stay where we are. The last few weeks we started to look forward to this moment. To have no plans and go with the flow. The first flow was triggered by the rainy season, which led us to Vietnam instead of Nepal. Beach, sun and sand instead of mountains, rain and mud.
So, Vietnam it is! 🙂 And now what…? Time to have no concrete plans. Be a traveler. Not limited by time. Slow down. Enjoy whatever comes on our path. Live in the moment. Nirvana
The thing is, I’m a master in planning and want to see it all and Wouter at this moment really only wants to surf but so far there is no wave to be seen. Hence, the first two weeks in Vietnam are bit of a search to get into the travel flow. As if we need to learn how to be a traveler. It feels different from traveling during holiday. During holiday there is a time limit, your mind has plenty of room for new impressions and, although you try to push it to the background, there are strings attached to work, house and daily life. As a long-term traveler without any strings attached we feel carefree like never before. We don’t have a real time limit and we do need to balance all the impressions not to get exhausted.
And so, despite the fact that it must be beautiful, we skip the green mountains with the hill tribes in the north and go straight to Hanoi. A swimming pool and a washing machine sound so much more exciting after our amazing journey of 20.000km overland. We end up in a “bubble”. Our Airbnb is located in a neat neighborhood with dozens of condo’s, swimming pools, sport schools, restaurants, super markets and too many play gardens, inhabited by Vietnamese families with young children… and the two of us! For a moment we enjoy the pool, the apartment, the good food and above all things the washing machine. But we don’t fit. It’s a place that can be anywhere and it makes you forget you’re in Vietnam on a world trip.
The moment you leave the bubble you enter the ‘real’ Hanoi, with heavy traffic, honking motor bikes, people ‘living’ on the street to eat, sleep, cook, socialize, sell their goods, anything. Things are jumping pretty good in Hanoi, however we can hardly surrender to really enjoy it. We need a place to relax. And so, we leave for Cat Ba island. It must be touristic, but at least it is an island (we’re desperate to see the sea again after two and half months…) and we’ve found a place to stay just out of town. To slow down our traveling speed, we book five nights.
Cat Ba turned out not to be our place. We knew it on day one, but hey sometimes you need to give things a chance. Our ‘home’ was quite a dump, but cheap and clean enough. It was ok. Until the weekend. The area in front of it turned into a very busy bus stop and to make it worse the karaoke bar next door went full steam till late night.
Cat Ba itself, is overcrowded with tourists, cars, buses and motor bikes. There are beaches. Or better said, there are beaches when it is low tide but at times it was so busy you hardly could see the water. I’m not joking. I will never ever say again that Dutch beaches are crowded those first summer days when the temperature goes just over 20 degrees and all Dutchies decide to go to the beach. All at the same time.
Other than a fun night with two French, beautiful views on a tour in Han La bay – next to the famous and even more touristic Ha Long bay – and a nice hike up to a mountain, Cat Ba wasn’t it. We were far from being relaxed and it was a relief to leave Cat Ba behind us. Crazy Cat Ba.
Our search led us next to Tam Coc. Which was a pleasant surprise and in one word amazing. It’s an area with impressive karstic rock formations, jungle, rivers and rice fields. We stayed in the middle of those rock formations in a bamboo cottage next to a lake. The best part: two hammocks and a beautiful view. You can guess what we did the remainder of the day: yes, relaxing! The place was great, but too quiet to stay and so we moved on. At this moment you start to wonder. Do we actually know what we want? Are we too critical? Do we search for the non-existent utopia?
The search continued by train. We stopped over in Vinh, just an ordinary town and a hotel with bed bugs, a guarantee of four days of itching. 😦 We landed in Dong Hoi which was promising! A nice long and wide beach, no tourists and fresh sea food at the local beach stalls. We enjoyed a nice long beach walk but started to think way too much about all our options, what we want, where we want to go to, how we manage all the visa expire dates. We were exhausted. After the second night on a hard bed, no windows and music from 05:00 AM, we leave. Again…
And then there was Hue. A historic town with charm. Not sure what it is but we feel at ease in this place. Our ‘home’ is relax, it’s not too busy, not too quiet. There are tourists, but also locals. You can eat local food, but also Western. The place is in balance, and so are we. We don’t know if it is because of Hue or if it is just us in the moment, but we become more relaxed the longer we stay. And so, we extend with a day. And another day. And another day.
I think we start to find the travel flow. And it feels good, I must say! 🙂